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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

71. Mini Mayors

Mini mayors are local councillors with added status and recognition.  More than simply the community’s representative on the Council they are the focus for community governance.  Many councillors already act informally as mini mayors – the idea here is that this role could be formalised and given legal weight.

Mini mayor wins award for services to community governance

I was at a Welsh Government seminar this week on Reforming Local Government.  One of the questions was around the role local councillors and how it might develop. A couple of issues came out of this:

  • Many back bench councillors are disillusioned and feel they cannot make a difference.  Young councillors in particular have come into local government full of expectation but find that they are excluded from council wide decision making.
  • Sub local governance, in other words the patchwork of community and town councils, community regeneration partnerships, voluntary groups, school governing bodies etc etc, is, democratically speaking, a mess.  There is nothing that formally links everything.
  • Councillors are in a great position to tie all this together. They are already on many of these bodies, as school governors, on management committees of community centres and involved with voluntary groups.  Many councillors already wear two hats – they serve on local authorities and on their community and town councils.

As well as their traditional councillor role this means they would automatically:

  • Have a seat on the community or town council (no need to be elected)
  • Be a governor on all the schools in their patch
  • Sit on the management committee or board of any community initiatives in their areas

This would ensure that the local councillor not only had influence in all of these bodies but was able to join things up locally.  The presence of an elected councillor on all of these bodies would also ensure added democratic legitimacy for them.  At the same time the mini mayor would be a stronger position to represent the views of the community to the Council and there would also be more scope for mini mayors to facilitate public engagement in their areas through area forums or similar initiatives.

When people vote for their councillor now, they are electing someone to represent them on the Council and various committees.  Would it make a difference to turnout if people knew that the councillor they were electing would also be automatically be involved in a number of other community bodies?  Would it improve the accountability of those bodies if the mini mayor for the area gave them all a public and accessible face?

Couple of issues.  The first is, to make this work, there would probably need to be only single councillor wards.  Second, and most important there would need to be enough councillors to ensure that mini mayors are not spread too thin.  One the plus side, supporting a network of mini mayors could be an important counter balance to the increasing remoteness of our increasingly large local councils.

UPDATE:  A reality check from Councillor Simon Cooke and plenty more food for thought in this post.  In it Simon says:
Much though I see merit in the mini-mayor idea, it is a reminder that the 2000 Local Government Act emasculated local councillors and created the situation where many ended up flapping around wondering what their role and purpose might be.... What we need to do is give those councillors the support, access and capacity to actually do that vital job of kicking down the doors of bureaucrats to ensure that the people's voice echoes round those offices as loudly as possible.


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